When I made aliyah 11 years ago, one of the first things I did was to go to the Beitar Jerusalem training facility in Bayit Vegan to discover everything I could about my new team. After growing up in Montreal and then living in New York I always had a love affair with the Canadiens and Expos and then with the Yankees, Jets, Rangers, Knicks and MetroStars. So it was only natural to find out who my new favorite club would be especially for someone living in Israel’s capital city, Jerusalem.
Along with my 10-month old son, I made my way down to the very modest training center right next to Shaare Zedek Hospital and watched practice wanting to know who the stars of the team were. Avi Nimni, the Maccabi Tel Aviv superstar had been offloaded by his club and was now playing with Beitar as former club great Eli Ohana manned the sidelines.
While standing quietly, Meir Harush, the team’s manager came over and asked me who I was as I was a new face at a favorite hangout for the team’s supporters. I explained to him that we had just made aliyah and this was the first thing I was doing in my new home. He grabbed me and kissed me on both cheeks, then ran to the offices and brought me back a key chain and club pin.
I was hooked.
Immediately afterwards I went to town and bought a season ticket for the Mizrachi or East Stand where all of the fanatics sit or should I say stand. One of the first matches I attended was between Beitar and Nimni’s former club, Maccabi Tel Aviv. Guess who scored the winning goal in a 2:0 win? Well none other than Nimni! Everything was great, until the next round against Maccabi Haifa and I was introduced to the side of Beitar which would rear its ugly head time and time again. Fan violence.
Many of my friends had warned me. Remember this is Israel not the United States or Canada. The people are crazy, I said nonsense.
With the gates closed around the stadium an hour before kickoff on Motzei Shabbat fans were getting restless as the police said that there were already too many people in the stadium and even though you had a season ticket you would not be allowed in. That’s when everything began to get wild. Pushing and shoving ensued as I tried to get away from the angry mob. Police horses started to move the supporters away but suddenly there was an opening in one of the gates and everyone ran towards that one small parting of the sea to get into the stadium. Along the way anyone in their path was crushed, and so was I. Neither the fans nor the police could have cared about the ones who were trampled on. As we lay there no one came over, no one cared.
Unfortunately that’s exactly what we see now with the so called supporters and craziness that took place in Charleroi, Belgium this past Thursday night. These people caused an embarrassment to not only the club, Jews worldwide but also to the State of Israel.
Even after I was rundown that night, I still supported Beitar for better or for worse. Traveling to matches around the country and following the team’s every move. I still loved them, and yes there are many great supporters, but did I love all of them.
We can go back to the arrival of the Chechnians and the racist abuse that the fans rained on them. But not only them, the club and the players as well. From ‘keeper Ariel Harush to team chairman Itzik Korenfine who valiantly singlehandedly attempted to stop the brutal Ultras element from taking hold of the club.
How many matches were played outside of Beitar’s Stadium because of continuos problems with the supporters last year? Between February and May the yellow and black had to play their home games across the country from Netanya to Haifa due to penalties levied by the Israel Football Association. Is this normal? NO.
To be clear this element of so called fans is not all or even a majority of Beitar supporters. For the most part the fans and those with families have been driven away from Beitar by the Ultras, they don’t want to be exposed to the negative forces that have gotten hold of the team. Who could blame them.
Many people have told me, they’d love to go, but they just can’t be with such a brood. Other teams in the area have now been the alternative to Beitar and the situation will just get worse should these issues not be dealt with by the swift hand of the law.
It’s time to stop the racism, it’s time to stop the abuse and it’s time to play football the way it was meant to be played. If it means tearing the club down and starting from scratch then so be it. The inmates have been allowed to run the asylum for too long. It’s time for that to end.